Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The government spends only eight per cent of total education budget, equalling 1.4 per cent of GDP, on higher studies, due to which the country has lagged behind in socio-economic development. In his lecture on `Education of Science and Technology for Socio-Economic Development,’ organised by Planning Commission for the eminent scientists and scholars, former federal minister and Chairman of Higher Education Commission (HEC) Dr Atta-ur-Rehman said the country could not afford any further cuts in budgetary allocations for science and technology. He suggested the government to incentives the private sector to invest in technology sector following the foreign models. He said it was unfortunate that the collective GDP of all OIC states was lesser than that of Japan, just because “we lag behind in science education as we could not set priorities”. “First of all, we will have to recognise that youth is the real asset of our country. Pakistan is rich of 85 million youths of below 19. So if we do not exploit talent, the country may suffer a lot,” said Atta-ur-Rehman. He said it was unfortunate that Pakistan was spending only 1.4 per cent of GDP on education out of which eight percent was allocated for higher education. He advised the government not to follow Sri Lankan syndrome where lower education was given priority. “The students should be developed as job givers, not job seekers because youths should be encouraged to establish small companies. MIT has created 4,000 companies with annual sale of $232 million,” he said. Dr Atta-ur-Rehman said Pakistan has been ranked 104th in Global Competitiveness and 83rd in availability of engineers and scientists, 80th in spending on research and development against 46 at India. Exemplifying Malaysian Model spending 25 per cent of GDP on higher education, he said from 2002 to 2007, the country had witnessed 6,000 per cent increase in science education and salaries of university teachers were increased to $5,000 but unfortunately the allocation was being reduced for the sector. Referring to a silent revolution in higher education, he said even an Indian advisor had suggested his Prime Minister to follow Pakistan’s model and added that if exploited well, the country could soon join China to challenge India in technology sector. Giving a roadmap, he suggested short and long term plans for 13 major sectors, including agriculture, textile, materials and others, stressing for incentivising the private sector to invest in research and development. In India, private sector spends 75 percent in research and development, 67 per cent in China but unfortunately in Pakistan it spends at only 5 per cent, putting rest of the burden to be borne by the government, he added. The former HEC chairman said there was a need to identify areas for investment and described education, science and technology, innovations and honest technologically competent leadership as pre-requisite for Socio-economic development of the country.
PESHAWAR: Minister for Education Sardar Hussain Babak and Minister for Health Syed Zahir Ali Shah claimed Wednesday that crisis in their respective departments would end in two months if the elected representatives stopped interfering in postings and transfers of the employees. Responding to the points of order raised by the legislators during the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, both linked improved performance of their departments to complete cooperation from the lawmakers. Earlier, the members severely criticised the performance of the education and health departments. However, none of them came forward when the ministers sought suggestions for better performance of their departments. Sardar Hussain Babak said those sitting in assemblies had enrolled their children in private schools but all were interfering in government’s schools functioning. He asked the members to pinpoint any particular case of corruption so that action could be initiated. Zahir Shah admitted shortage of doctors but said there was no truth in the report that the people were keeping animals in Basic Health Units (BHUs) in the far-flung areas. The minister suggested to the chair to form a special committee to visit these areas to know the truth. The lawmakers from Hazara including Javed Abbasi, Aurangzeb Nalotha and Inayatullah Jadoon had claimed 11 BHUs in their constituencies were closed while the rest were under-staffed. The local people keep animals in those BHUs, they claimed. Speaker Kiramatullah Khan said the BHU in his village near Peshawar had no doctor while the doctor in one of the RHCs was deaf. He said he had already constituted a committee under the chairmanship of Abdul Akbar Khan with Sikandar Sherpao and Saqib Chamkani as members for the solution of the problems in both the education and health departments. Abdul Akbar and Sikandar Sherpao said they would present their report in the coming session. Pervez Khan from Nowshera supported PPP’s Zamin Khan’s assertion about rampant corruption and irregularities in education department. He alleged the officers were minting money by making postings and transfers. “Even Class IV appointments were being made after receiving Rs100,000 as a bribe,” he claimed and added he had apprised the ministers and the chief minister about the practice but in vain. The speaker referred the privilege motions of Waqar Ahmad Khan, Saqib Chamkani and senior minister Bashir Bilour to the concerned committee. Waqar Ahmad had complained against the PIA station manager and FIA inspector for stopping his flight to Abu Dubai without any reason. Saqib Chamkani, who is chairman of standing committee, had complained his directives were not honoured by various departments. Bashir Bilour had said daily Shamal had breached his privilege by carrying news against him.
Anna Chapman, one of 11 people accused by the U.S. of being Russian agents, made quite an impression at a recent entrepreneurs conference. And the man who interviewed her says that "she knew the power of her looks."
A congressional panel voted on Wednesday to lift a decades-old ban on travel to Cuba and remove other hurdles to food sales to the Caribbean island.The 25-20 vote in the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee sets the stage for a potentially blistering debate this year in both the full House and the Senate. "We have tried isolating Cuba for more than fifty years and it has not worked," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said. "Today's vote demonstrates that Congress is ready to change our nation's approach on this issue." A broad coalition of farm, business and human rights group have backed the bipartisan bill as an important step toward ending the almost five-decade-old embargo on communist-led Cuba and promoting positive change on the island. "By increasing food exports and repealing the travel ban, this legislation will provide more jobs for Americans and Cubans," said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an advocacy group. But opponents, who say Washington must keep pressure on Cuba's communist government to force democratic change, vowed to use every tool available to keep it from becoming law. Representative Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, called the bill the latest U.S. government bailout program. "Only this time we'd be bailing out a brutal dictatorship on the brink of collapsing," Rooney said. Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he would filibuster any attempt to pass the bill in the Senate. "The big corporate interests behind this bill couldn't care less about whether the Cuban people are free or not. They only care about padding their profits," Menendez, whose parents where Cuban immigrants, said. Proposals to lift the ban have died in Congress over the last decade due to concerns about human rights abuses in the one-party state built since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. President Barack Obama has taken some steps to improve relations with Havana, such as allowing unlimited family travel and remittances and greater telecommunications links. But Washington says the Cuban government has failed to reciprocate, making it politically difficult for the White House to move further in easing the Cold War-era embargo. Cuban officials have encouraged recent U.S. trade delegations visiting Havana to work to abolish the travel ban because the arrival of more American tourists would give the government more money to buy U.S. goods. Congress exempted farm sales from the long-standing U.S. embargo on Cuba in 2000 as long as Havana paid in cash and money transfers were handled by a third-country bank. President George W. Bush's administration angered many farm-state lawmakers by interpreting the cash payment rule narrowly, insisting on payment before shipment. The bill addresses that issue. U.S. farm exports to Cuba reached a record $710 million in 2008, before dropping to $528 million in 2009 in the midst of the global financial crisis.
Reporting from Washington — It would be a revival worthy of Lazarus, but President Obama is making a renewed push for an immigration overhaul, possibly during a lame-duck session of Congress after the November election — when members would no longer face an imminent political risk for supporting it. Obama met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the State Dining Room on Tuesday and discussed a strategy for passing a bill that had seemed dead for the year. On Thursday morning, the president will put the issue before the American public. In a speech at American University, he plans to make the case for providing a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people who live in the U.S. illegally while strengthening border enforcement. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing Tuesday that "this continues to be a very important national issue" requiring Republican support. To date, no Republican senators have agreed to back a comprehensive immigration bill. Nor has such a bill been introduced in the Senate. Obama "can't sign something that doesn't exist," said one person who was at the White House meeting. As recently as May, Obama said he merely wanted to "begin work" on immigration this year — not complete a bill. But this week he has approached the issue with renewed urgency. He spoke to immigration advocates at the White House on Monday, setting aside time from coping with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a shakeup in his military command in Afghanistan. Latino lawmakers who have criticized the White House for neglecting immigration said they were pleased. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who was part of the Hispanic Caucus meeting with Obama, said in an interview: "He's going to speak to the nation on Thursday and tell the country why it's important to have comprehensive immigration reform. That's something we've been demanding of this administration." But advocates have heard assurances before. Deepak Bhargava of the Washington-based Center for Community Change was among those who met with the president Monday. In an interview afterward, Bhargava said Obama "was unambiguous about his commitment. The question is whether the actions will match the words over the next few weeks." In their hourlong meeting Tuesday, lawmakers and the president debated a strategy for passing a bill in the coming months — no small task given that members are increasingly focused on the upcoming election, and national polls show broad support for Arizona's strict new immigration law. With conservatives energized, angry and likely to storm to the polls, Democrats fear they will lose even more seats in Congress than a president's party typically does at the halfway point in his term. Voting on an immigration bill in a lame-duck session has some advantages in proponents' eyes. Outgoing members of Congress would have little reason to fear backing a controversial bill. And those who won might be more likely to support it, since they wouldn't have to face voters for another two years — when Obama is up for reelection and likely to draw progressives to the polls. In addition, if Republicans make major gains in November, an immigration overhaul could be impossible in 2011 or 2012. While running for president, Obama pledged to act on immigration in 2009. That deadline came and went. But Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008 and has no wish to alienate a growing constituency. Raising the issue anew allows Obama to mollify his Latino supporters. But it also puts Republicans in a tough spot. Neither party can afford to write off a Latino community whose influence is growing. Forcing a vote on immigration would give Republicans a difficult choice: They could vote against the bill and risk antagonizing Latinos, or vote yes and invite the wrath of "tea party" activists and other conservatives opposed to what they view as amnesty for illegal immigrants. In his private meetings this week, Obama has emphasized that Republicans are the main force blocking a bill. "He said over and over again the Republican obstruction was the key to preventing this from getting done," said Eliseo Medina, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, who took part in a meeting with Obama on Monday. In another move likely to please Latino voters, Obama's immigration enforcement chief, John Morton, issued a memo Tuesday ordering his agency to focus on deporting criminals and those who pose a national security threat, rather than on pursuing people such as "immediate family members of U.S. citizens" and those caring for children. Morton has long embraced those priorities publicly. The memo was an effort to make them clear to every employee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said a senior ICE official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The Los Angeles Times has reported in recent months on deportation cases against college students and others with no criminal records, including one against a Nevada couple that a federal judge criticized as "horrific." After the article appeared, immigration officials told the family it would not be deported. Officials in the Department of Homeland Security, which encompasses ICE, say it is difficult for senior officials to learn of every such case wending its way through the sprawling bureaucracy. The Morton memo orders immigration officials to focus on removing "aliens engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, or who otherwise pose a danger to national security; aliens convicted of crimes, with a particular emphasis on violent criminals, felons and repeat offenders; aliens not younger than 16 years of age who participated in organized criminal gangs; aliens subject to outstanding criminal warrants; and aliens who otherwise pose a serious risk to public safety."
IGP Khyber Pakthunkhwa Malik Naveed Khan here Wednesday ruled out the possibility of terrorism threats to the provincial capital and said that militants and their leadership are in disarray due to massive losses suffered by them at the hands of security forces. A handful of militants might have been shifted to Khyber Agency following the successful military operation in Orakzai Agency but there is no threat to Peshawar as security forces and police are fully capable to thwart enemy’ designs. This he said while responding to questions of journalists after giving detailed presentation on the overall law and order situation and police sacrifices during the war against terror here at Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines. However, he said suicide attacks could not be ruled out. The Khyber Pakthunkhwa police chief said that massive losses suffered by militants in their strongholds could be judged from the fact that their leadership now can’t move from one place to other and their safe heavens have been destroyed as result of successful operations of security forces. It was the successful operation that has established peace in Swat and Malakand division. To a question about sources of funding to militants, he said that the way they were equipped, armed, driving vehicles, they might getting funds from some foreign quarters that needs to be blocked. The presence of large number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan for the last 32 years had also added to the difficulties of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police in making close check on militants and terrorists, he added. The IGP made it crystal clear that illegal emigrants would not be tolerated and would be expelled. The joint search operation that had conducted by paramilitary forces and Khyber Pakthunkhwa police against militants and anti-state elements in the outskirts of Peshawar has proved very successful, owing to significant improvement in law and order in the provincial capital, he maintained. The IGP said the entire nation was now united against the menace of militancy and terrorism and the time is not far away when this cancer would be uprooted completely, he remarked. “Now, the government, political leadership, civil society, security forces, intelligentsia, people and religious scholars have joined hands with a strong resolve and commitment to wipeout the scourge of extremism, radicalization, militancy and terrorism and with the grace of God we will be triumph,” he remarked. To combat terrorism on sustainable basis, he said Quick Response Force and Elite Forces have been raised, saying that Quick Response Force present at every district headquarters can respond to any terrorists act within five minutes information. Likewise, 6725 Special Police Officers /Community Policemen have been recruited on merit to ward off the threats of terrorism and militancy. The introduction of community police has greatly discouraged militancy in areas where writ of Government was challenged, he added. The IGP said Khyber Pakthunkhwa police have rendered great sacrifices in the war against terror and it was acknowledged by all. He said that 46 policemen had lost their lives in IED explosions in last two and half years, saying that 201 policemen had embraced martyrdom while fighting against terrorists while 229 militants were killed in 2009. The Police Chief said that 29394 explosive materials, 42 suicide jackets and 41010 hand grenades/dynamites/explosive materials have been seized during last two and half years by Khyber Pakthunkhwa police. Praising showers on police martyrs for their invaluable sacrifices for averting scores of terrorists’ attacks and protecting lives and properties of people of large number population, he said the heirs of martyrs would not be left alone. The government under Shaheed police package has already announced free education, residential plots, Rs. Three million for heirs of martyred, reservation of special seats for their children and full salary till superannuation have been ensured. The IGP said that a batch of 25 policemen suffered by trauma and mental disorder due to terrorism has performed Umra and another batch will also be sent that had resulted improvement of their health. He said that 500 plots have been distributed among the heirs of martyrs in Regi Lalma township while colonies would also be constructed for policemen at Karak, Kohat, Nowshera and Haripura districts. A monument would also be constructed for police martyrs at each district while police stations and police lines named after martyrs. In addition to policemen, he said that gallantry medals for civilians who demonstrated bravery would be given, saying that this award will also be given to a journalist. The Khyber Pakthunkhwa police chief said that a record number about 100 developmental projects were underway including construction of police lines, stations, posts, colonies etc that after completion would improve the socio-economic condition of policemen. Regarding aid pledges of international donors countries, he urged the Friends of Pakistan to relax its rules and helped government to further strengthen and equip Khyber Pakthunkhwa police being the front line force in war against terrorism to defeat militancy, terrorism and insurgency once and for all. He said that terrorism was global issue and not related to Pakistan. The IGP also stressed the need for strengthening of Criminal Justice System to curb militancy and terrorism and radicalization on sound footings.
President Barack Obama says U.S. troops are carrying too much of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan and doing too many things that are more appropriate for civilians, such as building schools and setting up justice systems. Obama says the problem is that the U.S. doesn't have a civilian effort as large as the military. He wants to change that by building up a "civilian expeditionary force" that can go into an area once the U.S. military deems it safe to do the work of building roads, bridges and schools and setting up civil societies. Obama said that's one reason he's increased military pay while holding the line on domestic spending. Obama commented Wednesday during a town hall meeting. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below. RACINE, Wis. (AP) — President Barack Obama says U.S. troops are carrying too much of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan and doing too many things that are more appropriate for civilians, such as buildings schools and setting up justice systems. Obama says the problem is that the U.S. doesn't have a civilian effort as large as the military. He wants to change that by building up a "civilian expeditionary force" that can go into an area once the U.S. military deems it safe to do the work of building roads, bridges and schools and setting up civil societies. Obama said that's one reason he's increased military pay while holding the line on domestic spending. Obama commented Wednesday during a town hall meeting.
The death toll for foreign soldiers in Afghanistan neared the grim milestone of 100 for June alone Monday as the CIA chief warned the anti-Taliban war would be tougher and longer than expected. Britain's Ministry of Defence said a soldier had been killed in the southern province of Helmand on Sunday, taking the June toll as tallied by AFP to 99 -- already the worst monthly total in nearly nine years of fighting. The British death came after four Norwegian soldiers died when their vehicle was hit by a bomb in the northern province of Faryab on Sunday. Norwegian Defence Minister Grete Faremo said she would travel to Afghanistan to bring home the bodies. The toll for the year to date is 319, compared to 520 for all of 2009. NATO says the dramatic upswing in casualty numbers in June has been caused by its stepping up military operations and taking the fight to the Taliban in areas where the Islamist militia has previously been unchallenged. It comes as questions mount in the United States and Europe about military strategy in Afghanistan following last week's sacking of the top NATO commander, US General Stanley McChrystal. Carl Levin, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee and a key Democrat, told reporters that backing among American voters for the war effort would depend on looming operations in Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold. "I would say in September and October, when we expect an acceleration of operations in Kandahar, will have a major effect on it," Levin said. Eight civilians including women and children were also killed on Monday when a Taliban-style bomb ripped through a mini-van in the central province of Ghazni, police said. NATO said meanwhile it had killed several rebels in a pre-dawn raid near the troubled southern city of Kandahar, but villagers said the dead were all civilians. Police said they were investigating claims that the dead were local men who had been sleeping on roofs to escape the heat. The issue of civilian casualties is incendiary among Afghans, who blame them on foreign troops despite a UN report this year that showed that most civilian deaths are caused by Taliban attacks. McChrystal won plaudits in Afghanistan for introducing battlefield measures aimed at reducing civilian casualties, principally with an approach known as "courageous restraint" which encourages soldiers to hold fire until they are sure their targets are bona fide insurgents. The policy has been criticised among the ranks, where it is blamed for the rising number of deaths and injuries suffered by NATO troops. McChrystal was forced to step down after disparaging remarks about US administration officials, including President Barack Obama, emerged in an explosive article in Rolling Stone magazine. The article raised questions about whether McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy, under which an extra 30,000 US troops were scheduled for deployment in Afghanistan, is working and fully supported by the US administration. CIA director Leon Panetta acknowledged "serious problems" with the Afghan war. "We're dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency," Panetta told ABC television. "We are making progress. But it's harder and slower than anyone anticipated." Karzai's office meanwhile angrily dismissed as baseless a media report that he had met face-to-face with an Al-Qaeda-linked Taliban leader in Kabul, Sirajuddin Haqqani, as a prelude to peace talks. Much of southern Afghanistan is blighted by the Taliban insurgency, now in its deadliest phase since the US-led invasion ousted the hardline Islamist regime in late 2001 and installed a Western-backed administration. McChrystal has been replaced by General David Petraeus, the architect of the successful surge strategy in Iraq that is credited with bringing the country back from the brink of civil war.
The woman at the centre of one of the most intriguing spying scandals since the cold war rubbed shoulders with some of Britain's highest profile businessmen at glittering evenings in London nightclubs. Anna Chapman, one of 10 suspected Russian spies who have been charged in the US, was allegedly taken to parties at Annabel's nightclub attended by top businessmen including private equity billionaire Vincent Tchenguiz and Philip Green, who owns some of the UK's largest retailers. The emerging picture of the glossy social circles Chapman moved in during her time in Britain mirrors FBI suspicions that the Russian secret service wanted Chapman to ingratiate herself with influential people in the west. She was, said one businessman who knew her, a "great networker". Wayne Sharpe, executive chairman and founder of Bartercard, a trading exchange firm, said he met Chapman, 28, a number of times during 2005 at social gatherings. Sharpe, 53, said Chapman was then the personal assistant of Nicholas Camilleri, chief executive of the Mayfair-based hedge fund company Navigator Asset Management Advisers. "The business people [in attendance] were the highest lot – I'm talking about Philip Green and Vincent Tchenguiz. She was in that set well and truly by being at Nick's side until the wee hours of the morning," said Sharpe. "She was one of many intelligent Russian women who worked with Nicholas. It was always hard to determine what she did in his business, but she was very intelligent, attractive, personable and very articulate in English. She certainly was a great networker. She constantly ingratiated herself with all of the high-end businessmen Nicholas introduced her to." A spokesman for Tchenguiz said it was "almost certainly true" that the businessman had met Chapman. "Vincent and Nick know each other and both go to Annabel's every Thursday," he said. "If Chapman was with Nick, she would have been introduced. "But it would have been a passing encounter – totally innocent," he added. There is no suggestion that Chapman obtained any information from the businessmen she mixed with. It is understood Green seldom visits Annabel's and has no recollection of meeting her. The Guardian was not able to reach Camilleri by time of publication tonight. Barclays Bank confirmed today that Chapman had worked in its London office before moving to the US. Earlier another British-based company, the private plane hire firm NetJets Europe, confirmed that she worked for it in the UK, but not for as long as the CV claimed, or at such a senior level. Chapman's extensive online presence, including more than 90 photographs posted to Facebook and an apparently glamorous lifestyle as a property millionaire, has made her the focus of much of the media coverage of the case. But quite what her part in the spying network was remains a mystery. Inquiries in the US have established that Chapman was arrested after she herself had gone to a New York police station after a meeting with a supposed Russian agent who wanted her to pass on a false passport. In fact the Russian had been an American undercover federal investigator. Although Chapman agreed to the task when asked if she was willing to step up her spy work, she then failed to turn up to the set-up meeting. Instead she went to the First Precinct station in New York and told police that the passport had been forced upon her. It was only then that she was arrested by the federal authorities. The manner of her arrest has been seized on by her lawyer, Robert M Baum, as evidence that Chapman was not quite the super spy that the prosecution are claiming. "The government's case is very thin against Ms Chapman. There is no allegation that she ever met face to face with any government official. No allegation despite constant surveillance that she ever delivered anything to anyone or received any money," Baum told ABC News. Several thousand miles away in Moscow, meanwhile, a few more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of Chapman's life were emerging. She grew up in the southern town of Volgograd – formerly Stalingrad – and came from an influential diplomatic family. She studied in Volgograd's middle school – where she was known as Anya Kuschenko – and lived with her grandmother when her parents decamped to Moscow. Her father became Russia's ambassador to Kenya when she was in the 8th grade, friends said. "I'm certain this is all some kind of set-up," one friend told the news portal lifenews.ru. "Even if you suppose she had become an intelligence agent she would never have allowed herself to fail in this way. She was such a clever girl." Another classmate, Tatyana Shumilina, recalled her as a "party animal" who introduced the other teenage girls to "decent music" including Metallica and Nirvana. She was usually dressed in ripped jeans, black T-shirts and had a punk style. "She was an excellent student. The boys liked her. You only had to see her once to realise she was very pretty. As she got older she got even prettier. She made no effort to hide her diplomatic connections – everyone knew her father was an ambassador in an African country." After school she moved to Moscow, and studied at the People's Friendship University of Russia, one of the top Soviet-founded schools. After graduating in 2004 she went into business, initially working for Fortis Investments. She set up her own online real estate business – apparently conceived from her experience of moving flats across Moscow. Lifenews.ru says she married an Englishman, and moved to Britain, returning to Russia from time to time. Friends are unable to confirm this. "I don't know about her personal life," said Dmitry Porochkin. Porochkin met Chapman at a function of Moscow's young entrepreneurs' club. By this point she had dumped her Russian surname and was using Chapman instead, he told the Guardian. "She was an extremely talented businesswoman who specialised in start-ups," he said. "She was a genuine entrepreneur. She showed no interest in politics. She was someone who wanted to achieve her business targets, and said she planned to start an investment project in New York. How she ended up in the view of the US special services is a mystery." Chapman's online real estate business www.domdot.ru was today still up and running. Nobody answered the phone at the company's Moscow office. The portal offers a property search in 90 different regions of Russia and was highly successful, Porochkin said. Chapman had intended to launch a similar online version in New York. She had also worked in banking in London, and for a hedge fund, Russian reports claimed. Other friends suggested that after frequent business trips she had moved to New York permanently only last year – camping out temporarily with her sister.
Russia and the US were facing their most serious diplomatic crisis of the Obama era after the Kremlin angrily denounced the arrest of 10 US-based Russian spies and said the FBI operation was an unsavoury cold war plot. The alleged spies are in US custody, after being charged in court on Monday with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government. Police in Cyprus yesterday arrested the ring's alleged paymaster and 11th spy, Christopher Metsos, attempting to catch a flight to Hungary. A court in Larnaca later released Metsos on bail of €20,000 (£16,000), prompting fears he would flee to the island's Turkish side, or either Turkey or Syria. Greek police said they were shocked by the decision. "It's not what we expected," said a spokesman; they were seeking more documents from the US and would go back to court. Metsos, 54, had been in Cyprus on holiday, his lawyer Michael Papathanasiou told the Guardian. "He is quiet, very normal. He says he has nothing to do whatsoever with the accusations against him by US authorities. He is in good spirits, and will remain on the island until the court-ordered extradition hearing on July 29. We have given our word we will be there." Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, yesterday questioned the timing of the arrests, three days after Barack Obama hosted Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, on a successful US visit, with talks in Washington, a joint presidential cheeseburger, and a tour of Silicon Valley. "The moment when all this was done was chosen quite smartly," Lavrov said. In a statement, the foreign ministry suggested the "groundless" arrests were a shadowy attempt to undermine the "reset" in US-Russian relations "announced by the US administration". It said the suspects were Russian citizens who had never acted against US interests. Obama declined to comment on the case when asked during a briefing on the economy. Later, a White House spokesman said Obama had known of the investigation when he met Medvedev, but had been unaware any arrests were imminent. The spokesman stressed that the arrests were a law enforcement issue, and not driven by the president. A US justice department official said they had been triggered because one of the suspects was due to leave the US. "Operational considerations were the only factors that dictated the timing," said the justice spokesman. The affair spread to Britain after it emerged that one of the 11 alleged spies had used a fake British passport. According to US court documents, Tracey Lee Ann Foley travelled on a fraudulent British passport prepared by the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence agency. She was given it in Vienna en route to Moscow, the FBI indictment said. Another alleged spy, Richard Murphy, reportedly picked up a fake Irish passport at a "brush past" meeting with a Russian in Rome. He then used it to travel to Moscow. A Foreign Office spokeswoman in London said: "We are aware that the indictments state that one of the accused has travelled on a UK passport. We will be investigating this fully with the US. We are establishing the facts so it would be wrong to comment further at this stage. We remain confident that the British passport is one of the most secure documents of its kind – fully meeting rigorous international standards." It also emerged last night that one of the accused, Anna Chapman, had lived and worked in Britain. According to reports she lived in the UK for around four years from 2003, and today a private plane hire firm, NetJets Europe, said she had been employed at its London office for a short period. US and Russian reports said Chapman was married to a British citizen. NetJets said last night: "We can confirm that Ms Chapman was employed by NetJets Europe from May to July 2004, as an executive assistant in the sales department." The spy case puts Medvedev in one of the most uncomfortable dilemmas of his two-year presidency. He has to weigh up the Kremlin's response, and whether to expel or even arrest Americans living in Russia. Relations between Washington and Moscow have improved significantly since the semi-cold war days of the Bush era, with both Obama and Medvedev investing heavily in their friendship; and there have been results: a new, if modest, Start treaty on nuclear arms reduction; a deal on civilian nuclear cooperation; the US has backed Russia's long-delayed WTO application, and Russia has taken a tougher line on Iran. The Russian foreign ministry said yesterday: "We are counting on the American side to display the appropriate understanding in this matter, including taking into account the positive character of the current stage of Russian-American relations." A 55-page US dossier reveals in humiliating detail the frequently amateurish bungling of Moscow's alleged agents, who lived in leafy suburban homes in Boston, New York and Washington DC. The FBI said they were urged to adopt Americanised names to blend in, and gather information from thinktanks and government officials. The FBI appears to have known of the spy ring since at least 2000, and tracked its every move, covertly observing numerous encounters in Manhattan coffee bars, in which the "agents" would send data to their Russian handlers via wireless from their laptops. Often, however the technology broke down, causing desperate pleas for Moscow to sort out the problem. The US court documents also lays bare the stiltedly textbook spycraft used by the Russians to identify their own side. In one comic encounter spy Anna Chapman is told her contact will ask: "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?" Her reply is: "No, I think it was the Hamptons." Another alleged spy, Mikhail Semenko, posted personal photos on the Russian social networking website Odnoklassniki. One shows him posing in front of the White House; another in his swimming trunks on Miami beach; a third with a blonde against the Manhattan skyline. "They [the Russians] are going to have to make a calculation," Sam Greene, deputy head of Moscow's Carnegie Centre said yesterday. It would be unthinkable for Moscow not to respond, he said, but it was unclear what form this might take. None of the alleged spies was a diplomat or consular official – making a classic tit-for-tat expulsion unlikely. Russia might claim to have uncovered a spy ring of its own, possibly Russians working for US companies. Or it could target Americans. Either way, the FBI arrests appear to be further evidence of the explosion in Russian intelligence activity abroad over the past 10 years. Since 2000, when Vladimir Putin became president, western governments have reported a dramatic increase in spying activity by Moscow in Europe, the US, Africa, and Latin America. Putin, a former KGB agent in east Germany, tripled the budget for the FSB, the KGB's domestic successor, which he headed until 1999. Former intelligence officers now make up a huge proportion of Russia's ruling elite. Hardliners on both sides are likely welcome the spy scandal as an opportunity to sabotage improving US-Russian ties. Despite the recent thawing in relations, both the US and Russia had continued to spy on each other, Mark Urnov, dean at the political science department at Russia's higher school of economics said. "This [spy scandal] is an issue dating from previous years. The security services can't stop their activities immediately. Until recently there was a semi-Cold War between US and Russia. So why not spy?" According to Urnov, Moscow was unlikely to drop its current positive attitude to Washington. "Of course there are some groups inside the [Russian] political elite who would prefer to continue with more or less cold relations. But the dominant tendency now is to be friendly. "I don't see any forces on both sides who could be interested in intensifying this scandal, or in stirring up aggravation now between these countries."
Police in Bangladesh using bamboo staves, teargas and water cannon fought with textile workers demanding back pay and an immediate rise in monthly wages on the streets of Dhaka today. Witnesses said at least 30 people, mainly workers producing garments for global brands, were injured. Pictures showed children apparently being beaten. Ten policemen were also hurt. Although there has been violence for several weeks, today saw workers erecting barricades, pelting police with stones and attacking cars. Police described the fighting as the worst yet seen. Children under the age of 14 are banned by law from working, but campaigners say many can still be found in the sprawling factories. Hundreds of teenagers took part in running battles with police today. Local reporters and union officials said a row between workers and a manager at one factory led to a fight which then sparked general disorder. By nightfall, order had been restored. "The situation is calm. The problem has been solved," said Mohibul Haque, Dhaka's deputy police commissioner. Many of the rioting workers are employed by plants which make ready-to-wear garments for sale in western high street stores. "We worked for them," shouted one striking worker. "They are doing business and making money, but not paying us." An estimated three million workers, mostly women, are employed in the Bangladeshi garments industry. The lower paid workers earn a minimum monthly salary of 1,660 taka, equivalent to less than £18. They have demanded an increase to 5,000 taka. Owners said last week they could pay no more than 3,000 taka a month. "With inflation, many workers simply do not receive a living wage," said Khorshed Alam, a political scientist and executive director of the Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom Society in Dhaka. "They know that the next chance they will get to force a pay rise may be in four or five years." The garment industry accounts for more than 80% of impoverished Bangladesh's £10bn annual export earnings, according to commerce ministry data. The minimum wage, which is set by the government, was introduced in 1994 but remained unchanged despite soaring food prices until 2006. The result of the latest talks on the wage is due to be announced at the end of July. Until then, analysts expect the violence to continue. "This generation of garment workers is much more literate and politically aware than their predecessors," said Alam. "They have grown up in the slums not the villages and know that they need to be united and to demonstrate in the streets to realise their aims." A global report released last week by the International Trade Union Confederation in Vienna said Bangladeshi garment workers were the "world's most poorly paid" and that their exploitation was "on the rise". The report cited a survey released last month by the Bangladesh Factory Inspection Department which showed that almost 15% of employers did not pay their workers on time between January and May. Many other factory owners did not pay overtime, while several continued to pay less than the government's minimum wage. The garment industry accounts for about 40% of Bangladesh's total industrial workforce. Campaigners say wages have been cut by 20 to 30% recently in a country where almost half the population is already living below the poverty line. Low levels of unionisation and organisation have meant protests that are chaotic but difficult for the police to predict or break up. Raids by protesters on well-known factories are frequent occurrences. Owners have hired their own gangs to protect their production lines. Dozens of people were hurt in several days of unrest last week in the Ashulia industrial zone, 20 miles outside Dhaka, where nearly 300 textile factories were closed temporarily. Workers said that their employers had imposed lock-outs in an attempt to break their strike. Abdus Salam Murshedi, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, has said the violent protests have created "panic and anarchy". Factory owners argue that the unrest risks frightening away western clients who need reliable deliveries. Murshedi refused to comment today. Moshrefa Mishu, leader of the Garments Workers Unity Forum, said that during the last round of unrest and negotiations the major overseas buyers had put pressure on the local government to improve conditions and pay in the factories. "So far they are silent this time," she said.
Scores of Pakistani lawmakers could lose their seats in a probe into claims some have lied about their academic qualifications, officials said Wednesday. The investigation was launched by a Supreme Court order after more than a dozen parliamentarians were found to be in possession of fake degrees. A provincial deputy belonging to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif's party was the latest to be disqualified by the High Court in Lahore on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) confirmed that it had received instructions from the country's election commission to check the academic credentials of all MPs. "We are in a process to verify the graduation degrees of 991 MPs," HEC spokesman Mukhtar Ahmed told AFP. Former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf introduced new rules for 2008 polls that required elected officials to hold a degree. The condition was later waved by President Asif Ali Zardari's government. But the supreme court has ruled that the qualifications of all those who contested the 2008 elections be checked. Any member of parliament whose degree is found to be invalid will be unseated and an election held to replace them. Election commission spokesman Mohammad Afzal said the court order will be implemented "in letter and spirit."
U.S. and Afghan troops repelled an attack Wednesday on one of the biggest NATO bases in eastern Afghanistan by militants who used a suicide car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons in a failed attempt to breach the defenses. It was the third ground assault against a major coalition base in Afghanistan in the past five weeks — a sign that the insurgents have not been cowed by U.S. efforts to ramp up the war. Eight militants were killed in the attack, which occurred at the airport base on the outskirts of Jalalabad about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Kabul on the main road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistan border. The attack began with a suicide car bomber detonating his explosives near the gate to the base, followed by a half-hour gunbattle, Afghan officials said. An Afghan soldier and one international service member were wounded, NATO said. Chief NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said the attackers were unable to penetrate the defenses. "While designed to garner media attention, this attack only temporarily disrupted operations as our forces successfully repelled the attack," said Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, a U.S. spokeswoman. In a text message to The Associated Press in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said six suicide attackers killed 32 foreign and Afghan security forces. The insurgents often exaggerate their claims. The Jalalabad attack followed a May 19 ground assault against the giant Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and another three days later against Kandahar Air Field in the south. Those attacks — though militarily ineffective — have raised concern in the NATO mission about the audacity of the insurgents in the face of overwhelming NATO firepower. In all three assaults, insurgents launched what the military calls complex attacks — those that employ multiple types of weapons. On June 15, a senior Pentagon official, Michele Flournoy, told a Senate committee that the number of complex attacks had been dropping since February, suggesting that was a sign the Taliban's capabilities were diminishing. Wednesday's attack occurred hours before the U.S. Senate confirmed Gen. David Petraeus as the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus replaces Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired after he and his aides made unflattering comments about Obama administration figures to Rolling Stone magazine. Petraeus is due to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday en route to Kabul, the alliance announced. The Wednesday attack was part of a pattern of rising violence in eastern Afghanistan, despite the U.S. focus on operations in the Taliban's southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. A U.S. service member died of wounds suffered in a gunbattle with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials said without giving further details. That brought to 59 the number of American troops who have died in June in Afghanistan. Fighting has been under way since Sunday in the eastern province of Kunar with insurgents believed responsible for a roadside bombing that killed five American service members on June 7, according to U.S. statements. Two American soldiers were killed Sunday in the first day of the operation. About 600 U.S. and Afghan troops are taking part, the U.S. statement said. Insurgents with close ties to al-Qaida — such as the Haqqani group and followers of ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — operate in the east along with mainstream Taliban fighters. In the south, NATO said 43 insurgents had been killed or captured in a three-day operation aimed at disrupting militants in Panjwai, a Taliban stronghold near Kandahar city. The operation is part of the plan to bolster security in Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the former Taliban headquarters. Afghan and international troops have reportedly captured more than 115 suspected insurgents in the past two months, including more than 15 mid- and senior-level militant leaders, and destroyed four roadside bomb factories, according to NATO. Wednesday also marked the first anniversary of the capture of Spc. Bowe W. Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, the only American service member held prisoner by the insurgents. Bergdahl was discovered missing during his unit's roll-call the following day. "Since he was captured on June 30, 2009, it has been a top priority for U.S. and coalition forces to find him, recover him, and bring him home safely," said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, deputy chief of staff for communication. "We continue our efforts to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return." Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met Wednesday with President Hamid Karzai to discuss legal issues including the ongoing fight against corruption, which has undermined public trust in the government. A statement released by Karzai's office said the president complained to Holder that awarding contracts to government officials, political figures and parliamentarians was helping fuel the "negative phenomenon" of corruption. Karzai said Holder indicated that the U.S. government planned to review and reform the contract process in Afghanistan. Karzai also complained that contracts were being awarded to private security firms, which he said undermined efforts to build a strong national army and police force. Holder encouraged Karzai to continue efforts to improve governance and law enforcement "as much work remains to be done."
Militants set off a car bomb and stormed the entrance to an airport in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday in a failed attempt to enter the air field used by Afghan and international forces, authorities said. Eight insurgents died in the ensuing gunbattle. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, part of an upswing in violence in the nearly 9-year-old war. Using light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, the militants battled international forces for 30 minutes on the outskirts of Jalalabad city, according to the media office at the airport. White smoke rose from the scene. An Afghan soldier and one international service member were wounded in the fighting, NATO said. "They were not able to breach the perimeter. They were fought off by a combination of Afghan and coalition security forces," German army Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO, told reporters. The air field, shared by Afghans and the international force, is on a main road that leads to the Pakistani border. In a text message to The Associated Press in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said six suicide attackers killed 32 foreign and Afghan security forces at the airport, about 80 miles (125 kilometers) east of the Afghan capital. The insurgents often claim higher numbers of deaths in their attacks than the official toll. In a separate incident in eastern Afghanistan, NATO said a U.S. service member died of wounds sustained in a gunbattle with insurgents. NATO did not provide other details. The death brought to 59 the number of American troops who have died in June. Elsewhere in the east, U.S. and Afghan forces battled hundreds of militants from an al-Qaida-linked group for a third day Tuesday in Kunar province, the U.S. military said. Two American soldiers were killed Sunday in the first day of the operation. The attack in Kunar was directed against insurgents believed responsible for a roadside bombing that killed five American service members in the area on June 7, a U.S. statement said. The militants were believed to be members of the Haqqani group, a faction of the Taliban based in Pakistan that has close ties to al-Qaida. About 600 U.S. and Afghan troops are taking part in the operation, the U.S. statement said. In western Afghanistan, two patients waiting for a doctor were wounded Wednesday when a suicide bomber detonated his vest of explosives behind a clinic in the Dularam district of Farah province, said Gen. Abdul Jabar Pardeli, chief of police in neighboring Nimroz province. He said the intended target was not known. On Monday, four Afghan National Police officers were killed by a roadside bomb in the same district, the Ministry of Interior said. On Tuesday in Kabul, an Afghan man working for the United Nations was shot and killed in his vehicle near a busy traffic circle. The man was driving a white pickup truck with the blue U.N. logo painted on the side. Another Afghan member of the U.N. staff who was in the vehicle was not wounded, the U.N. said. The morning shooting occurred amid heavy traffic near Massoud circle, an intersection near the U.S. Embassy and an American military base. Blotz said Wednesday that it remains unclear whether the U.N. vehicle was the intended target of the shooting. Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb wounded seven civilians in the Arghistan district of Kandahar and another bomb killed two civilians and wounded two others in Khakrez district, the Afghan Ministry of Interior said. Afghan and international forces are ramping up security in and around Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Blotz said 43 insurgents were killed or captured in a three-day operation aimed at disrupting insurgents in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where they have plotted attacks on Kandahar city. In the past two months, joint forces have reportedly captured more than 115 suspected insurgents, including more than 15 mid- and senior-level militant leaders, and destroyed four roadside mine factories